‘China’s Unnatural Disaster’ the real David of the Oscar race?

Posted by · 12:09 pm · February 18th, 2010

This press release just landed in the inbox, so I thought I’d pass it along free of commentary:

“China’s Unnatural Disaster” faces governmental opposition

New York, NY- China’s Unnatural Disaster: the Tears of Sichuan Province, the latest documentary by Jon Alpert and Matt O’Neill, has been facing fierce opposition by the Chinese government as it makes its run for the Oscars this year. Since production began in 2008, China has fought the film at every opportunity and shows no signs of slowing as the Academy Awards draw near.

China’s Unnatural Disaster is an investigation into the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that destroyed many poorly-constructed schools, killing an estimated 10,000 children. The film follows the bereaved parents as they seek answers from the government and are ignored and intimidated. The Chinese Government implemented a well-coordinated campaign to censor and suppress any inquiry into the tragedy. In addition to jailing and threatening local filmmakers and journalists, the government attempted to stop Alpert and O’Neill.

The filmmakers were regularly harassed during production.
Alpert and O’Neill were surrounded by 35 plain-clothes police and detained at the local police station for eight hours.
Before exiting the country, officials demanded Alpert and O’Neill surrender their media (but it had already been messengered out of the country).
The filmmakers were banned from re-entry into China to attend a screening of the film at the Beijing Independent Film Festival.
After the film’s Oscar nomination, the Chinese government has censored the list of nominees to remove mention of the film.

Of this year’s nominees, China’s Unnatural Disaster is the only film the Chinese government doesn’t want the world to see. When the film was first released, a cultural attaché at the Chinese mission to the UN said, “I hope this doesn’t win an Oscar.”

“The reaction of the Chinese government to the film shows that they’re scared,” said Alpert, co-director of the film, “No one is denying its veracity, no one is denying its quality. What they’re trying to deny is the truth.”

The attack on China’s Unnatural Disaster is only one example of the extreme lengths to which the Chinese government has gone to prevent investigation into the deaths caused by the 2008 earthquake. Recently, Tan Zuoren, a Chinese literary editor, was sentenced to five years in prison due to his research into the deaths caused by the earthquake. He later appealed the provincial court’s ruling, but remains in jail.

The battle royale of Oscar night isn’t Jeff Bridges versus George Clooney; it’s a community film center in New York’s Chinatown and a small group of peasant families against the world’s largest government.

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→ 18 Comments Tags: , | Filed in: Daily

18 responses so far

  • 1 2-18-2010 at 12:25 pm

    Wha said...

    I’ve seen 3 of the 5 nominees. Of the 3 that I saw, that film should win on its merits. It was a stellar work in just a short amount of time. The film will also resonate because it touches on topics that have been in the news these days: natural disasters/Haiti and government oppression/Iran. The parent march and the government workers trying desperately to stop them was a very, very powerful image.

  • 2 2-18-2010 at 12:37 pm

    Bryan said...

    I watched it and it is great, but I haven’t seen the other 4. Does anyone know where I can watch them? I know shorts international is doing the others but where can I see the docs?

  • 3 2-18-2010 at 12:38 pm

    Ed D. said...

    “The battle royale of Oscar night isn’t Jeff Bridges versus George Clooney”

    lol, was it ever?

    Interesting article, though; I really need to get around to seeing ANY of these nominees :(

  • 4 2-18-2010 at 12:49 pm

    Michael said...

    I have never seen a nominated short form documentary film (I am not the biggest documentary fan, but have seen my share of the long form nominated docs) but this sounds way too intriguing not to check out! thanks for posting this article.

  • 5 2-18-2010 at 1:27 pm

    Maxim said...

    Man, I really hope this wins just so these guys get a moment at the podium.

    If what the press release says even remotely true, terrible. Absolutely enraging.

    The last bullet point in itself, shows that China has a very huge problem.

  • 6 2-18-2010 at 2:24 pm

    FrankieJ said...

    Great reporting Kris! I need to see this.

  • 7 2-18-2010 at 2:29 pm

    Bryan said...

    Search “China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province 01/05” on youtube and you can watch

    It’s in 5 parts but all there.

  • 8 2-18-2010 at 2:35 pm

    Charlie said...

    I wonder what will happen in regards to the Chinese live broadcast if this wins. Any guesses?

  • 9 2-18-2010 at 3:17 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I can’t take credit for reporting any of this, Frankie. It was merely a press release that I forwarded.

  • 10 2-18-2010 at 4:31 pm

    Me. said...

    Great article! I want to see this film now! So are you saying Kris that this could take the best documentary award instead of “The Cove”?

  • 11 2-18-2010 at 4:39 pm

    Charlie said...


    “China’s Unnatural (sp?) Disaster” is nominated for Best Documentary- Short Subject.

    The Cove is nominated for-and, IMO, will win- Best Documentary.

  • 12 2-18-2010 at 6:58 pm

    Me. said...

    OOOOOOOOOOOOOH… that makes sense… Ok what I asked was dumb.

    Thanks Charlie :)

  • 13 2-19-2010 at 3:40 am

    Matthias Zucker said...

    I have a feeling that, all things considered and despite the especially juicy politics involved here, that Rabbit a la Berlin will be the one to take it. But as the shorts categories go, you just never know.

    China’s Unnatural Disaster was very good though, I can see where a Chinese government would not like to see it get publicity.

  • 14 2-19-2010 at 6:57 am

    Mike_M said...

    I really want to see this but missed it when it was on HBO earlier this year, I did just DVR The Last Truck on HBO yesterday though.

  • 15 2-19-2010 at 9:46 am

    v said...

    I caught China’s Unnatural Disaster on HBO on demand maybe a week or two ago. Which Way Home was aired, but in Spanish. That one was tough to watch as well. I’ll need to check on The Last Truck when I get home!

  • 16 2-19-2010 at 10:41 am

    Charlie said...

    I saw The Last Truck a few weeks ago.

    Upon further review, it’s either CUD: TTOSP or TLT: TCOAGMP for the win.

  • 17 3-07-2010 at 7:09 am

    Victor Chan said...

    China does not broadcast Oscar “Live”in our sense, there is a 30 sec to a minute delay, so that authority can edit out anything imporper. They’ve done such thing when Ang Lee won the best director; they edited out the word Taiwan where Ang Lee was born and China claimed to be part of them.